12 top-rated hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park

The nation’s first national park, Yellowstone encompasses a staggering 3,500 square miles of the American West, making it an incredible hiking destination. Sitting atop an active volcano and ancient calderas, the park proudly displays the densest collection of hydrothermal features in the world. To access many of Yellowstone National Park’s attractions, the NPS has constructed many hiking trails, including planked boardwalks atop the fragile crust of thermal environments. Iconic trails, like the Upper Geyser Boardwalk, are a must, and far-reaching adventures, like the Slough Creek Trail, can give you a taste of a tranquil Yellowstone. Due to the park’s large area and variety of unique regions to explore,

1 Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk

Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Containing, for many, the pinnacle of Yellowstone National Park, the Upper Geyser Basin has the densest concentration of hydrothermal features in the world , including the ever-reliable Old Faithful Geyser . There’s a lot to explore here, and within its two square miles, more than half of Yellowstone’s 300 geysers can be found, ranging from the regal Castle Geyser to the thermophile-filled Morning Glory Pool. The 1.5-mile boardwalk trail of the Upper Geyser Basin and Geyser Hill follows along the Firehole River and offers much to admire. With predicted eruption timesfor five geysers along the boardwalk, including Old Faithful, there’s always a good chance of a hydrothermal reaction.

The Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk deserves a stroll, and between the erupting geysers, boiling hot springs, and smoking fumaroles, this dynamic area really defines what makes Yellowstone so unique. After you’ve finished seeing, smelling, and hearing the active Upper Geyser Basin on the boardwalk, it’s easy to extend your adventure to the surrounding area. Other great day hikes, such as the Lone Star Geyser Trail , are close by, and the Midway Geyser Basin is just a short drive away. Adjacent to the Old Faithful Geyser, the historic Old Faithful Inn , established in 1904, offers an impressive rustic dining room and timeless accommodations. Next to the inn, the more modern Old Faithful Visitor Center for visitorscan give you valuable information about the area.

Read also: Best Things to Do at the Grand Canyon

2 West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk

West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located on the west thumb of the massive Yellowstone Lake , the West Thumb Geyser Basin offers a water-soaked environment both underground and above ground. Gurgling geysers can be heard even in the parking lot of West Thumb Geyser Basin, and once you’re on the half-mile boardwalk, you can’t miss them. Between Abyss Pool, Percolating Spring, and Twin Geysers , there’s lots to stop and see on the West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk, including the underwater Lakeshore Geyser and Fish Cone. Adjacent to the sulfuric scent and bright colors of the basin, Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake over 8,000 feet in North America, offers welcoming deep-water views, including the occasional guided kayak tour along the shore.

3 Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: Zuid- en Noord-Rim

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: South and North Rim | Foto auteursrecht: Brad Lane
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: South and North Rim | Foto auteursrecht: Brad Lane

While Yellowstone National Park is perhaps best known for its extensive array of hydrothermal features, the nation’s first national park also delivers on some jaw-dropping views . There is no better example of this than in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. With two rims to explore and massive canyon walls to admire, even with viewpoints, it’s challenging to grasp the enormity of it all. On the North Rim, a recommended adventure course includes the backtrack-filled Brink of the Lower Falls Trail , where you can almost feel the water splash before it drops 300 feet into the canyon below. On the South Rim, Uncle Tom’s Trailoffers great views of the Upper and Lower Falls and is a worthy picnic spot.

4 Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Boardwalk

Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Boardwalk |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Boardwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Midway Geyser Basin, a five-minute drive from the Old Faithful Inn and the Upper Geyser Basin, is home to one of Yellowstone’s largest and most impressive hydrothermal attractions. Living up to its name, the Grand Prismatic Spring of the Midway Geyser Basin measures about 360 feet in diameter and with clouds of steam above the vibrant hues of heat-loving bacteria, it seems like it belongs on another planet. Visitors to the Midway Geyser Basin are encouraged to explore the half-mile boardwalk that skirts the rim of the Grand Prismatic Spring and the area’s other mega-sized features. Lapping next to the Great Prismatic Spring, the Excelsior Geyser Crateris another supersized sight to behold, including the thousands of gallons of hydrothermally heated water it pours into the nearby Firehole River.

5 Mount Washburn Trail

Mount Washburn Trail |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Mount Washburn Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For the rock climbers who come to Yellowstone, Mount Washburn is always at the top of the list. Accessible through the Dunraven Pass parking lot, just north of Canyon Village, Mount Washburn offers a healthy climb, great views, and an interesting look at the park’s ongoing history of wildfires. The 6.8-mile round-trip Mount Washburn follows a Forest Service road, slowly exposing amazing views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden Valley , and Grand Teton the entire way. At the top of Mount Washburn, a working fire tower rests at the summit, where a park ranger is most likely watching fires during your visit. The space is reserved in the fire towervisitor information and binocular stands , which serves as a great resting place before descending the mountain.

6 Mammoth Hot Springs: promenades langs het Upper en Lower Terrace

Mammoth Hot Springs: Upper and Lower Terrace Boardwalks |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Mammoth Hot Springs: Upper and Lower Terrace Boardwalks | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located at the far north end of Yellowstone National Park near the entrance to Montana, Mammoth Hot Springs proudly displays ancient activity still at play. The Mammoth Hot Springs is a dynamic area filled with an upper, lower and main terrace to explore colors, steam and growing geological formations . Along the promenade on the lower terrace, the stepped travertine Minerva Terrace deserves a moment of appreciation, as does the changing colors of New Blue Spring on the main terrace.

Every inch of Mammoth Hot Springs is worth exploring, and chances are it will have changed when you visit a decade later. After the adventure, visitors to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces can continue their hike on the nearby and wildlife-rich Beaver Ponds Trail . For longer stays to explore more in the area, including winter activities, nearby Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is one of the best campgrounds in Yellowstone, and one of the few open year-round.

7 Norris Geyser Basin Boardwalk

Norris Geyser Basin Boardwalk |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Norris Geyser Basin Boardwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Defined by the scorched appearance of geysers, hot springs, and a fragile crust, the Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone National Park’s most active geyser region . Offering the clearest photos of Yellowstone’s volcanic upbringing, Norris is an otherworldly environment filled with colorful thermophiles, hissing steam, and a 3-mile boardwalk to explore it all. One of the largest features in the area, Steamboat Geyser , is the world’s tallest active geyser and has the ability to shoot 1,000 feet of water into the air. Split between a Back Basin and Porcelain Basin , there’s plenty to explore in the dynamic Norris Geyser Basin, including the Historic Norris Museum, all cementing their status as one of Yellowstone’s top attractions.

8 Slough Creek Trail

Slough Creek Trail |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Slough Creek Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Venturing on the Slough Creek Trail in the northeastern Tower-Roosevelt region allows for a day hike or a thrilling adventure at night. Located in the Lamar Valley and the lush meadows along Slough Creek, the Slough Creek Trail is a popular fishing and wildlife destination. While the bison or sport fishermen aren’t there to communicate their favorite spots of the hiking trail, the entire length of the trail is spectacular, providing less crowded, wide-open Yellowstone scenery . For those wishing to camp on or near the Slough Creek Trail, overnight permits are required for overnight stays and the primitive Slough Creek Campgroundin addition to the trailhead, 16 sites are available on a first come, first served basis.

9 Boiling River Path

Boiling River Path |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Boiling River Path | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the few hydrothermal areas you interact with in Yellowstone National Park, the influx of hydrothermal water into the frigid Gardner River creates the heated swimming spot known as the Boiling River. Located just north of Mammoth Hot Springs, and a short drive from the Roosevelt Arch at the park’s north entrance, the Boiling River is a popular thermal spa and requires only a half-mile trail to access.

While it’s physically dangerous to soak in the hot spring of the boiling river itself, the production of warm water in the Gardner River is enough to heat things up. Limited facilities for changing to a bathing suit can be found near the boiling river. Swimming may be prohibited if the water is too high. Catch the river at the right time, though, and you can feel for yourself some of the hydrothermal action that flows throughout Yellowstone’s landscape.

10 Lone Star Geyser

Lone Star Geyser |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Lone Star Geyser | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Crossing trails with the Continental Divide Trail, the Lone Star Geyser got its name from its stray location in the Upper Geyser Basin and offers the easiest access to a backcountry geyser in the park. No doubt the first people to stumble upon the parched landscape surrounding the Lone Star Geyser’s massive cone were amazed at the sight, and even more awestruck by the 30 to 45 feet of water spray erupting from the cone at three-hour intervals. .

Fast forward to today, and the Lone Star Geyser is still showing its impact on the area, spewing water around every three hours. To access and witness an eruption of Lone Star Geyser, it’s a scenic 4km walk or bike ride up an old forest road that meanders next to the Firehole River. Although Lone Star is less visited because of this five-mile route, the level is flat and the terrain is easy, making this impressive backcountry geyser easily accessible for most levels of explorers. The key to getting the most out of a visit to Lone Star Geyser fetch lingers for the Burst of 20 to 30 minutes that happens every three hours.

11 DeLacy Creek Trail

DeLacy Creek Trail
DeLacy Creek Trail

Located just under 9 miles west of the West Thumb Geyser Basin, the DeLacy Creek Trail provides access to Lake Shoshone, Yellowstone’s largest backcountry , and takes visitors through a rich environment along the way. The hike is a 5.8-mile, out-and-back trail that follows the stream of DeLacy Creek to the shores of Shoshone. In general, wildlife is seen along this route in moderate numbers, and the views of Shoshone Lake are breathtaking. Upon reaching the lake, visitors are encouraged to explore the shoreline before heading back the way they came, or if the warm weather calls for a quick dip in the icy waters of Shoshone Lake.

12 Bechler River Trail

Iris Falls along the Bechler River Trail Adam Jones / photo modified
Iris Falls along the Bechler River Trail Adam Jones / photo modified

While seeing other folks would be an expected occurrence in Yellowstone National Park, if you want to leave the crowds for a day or two, your best bet is to find yourself in the park’s vast backcountry. Permits are required for overnight stays in the Yellowstone backcountry, and while your chances of running into other people decrease the farther you travel, exposure to all kinds of wildlife increases tenfold . Proper protocol should be followed with backcountry camping in Yellowstone, including secure food storage , and hikers should pack and pack all necessary gear for a comfortable stay in the wilderness.

A great backcountry trail is the Bechler River Trail, located in the remote southwest corner of Yellowstone. The Bechler River Trail consists of an out-and-back route from the Bechler Ranger station and covers just over 30 miles of trail along a moderate grade , allowing ambitious hikers to complete the trek in less than two days. However, Bechler River Trail is more worthy of a leisurely pace, or at least some built-in time to appreciate the abundant waterfalls along the trail . Initial hiking time for the Bechler River Trail begins in September, after river crossings have eased and mosquitoes have subsided and with stiff competition for required backcountry permits, advanced reservations are recommended.

Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park for Sightseeing

It’s a trek from any direction to make it into Yellowstone National Park, and for that reason it’s worth spending a few nights within the park boundaries. In addition to 12 different campgrounds in the national park, Yellowstone offers lodges, cabins, and hotels to spend the night and stay close to all the action.

  • Lodges: To experience an authentic Yellowstone adventure, it’s a good idea to book a room at one of the many lodges in the park. Located within sight of Old Faithful, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins offers access to quintessential Yellowstone scenery from clean, comfortable, and modern amenities. Located on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, Grant Village Lodge offers free parking, an attached restaurant and beautiful views from every spacious room. Located north of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Canyon Lodge and Cabins is known for its excellent location and friendly service.
  • Cabins: For those looking for a cabin in the woods in Yellowstone, popular spots like the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, which provides access to wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and hiking trails, may be just right for you. Roosevelt Lodge’s Rough Rider Cabins, with wood stoves and rocking chairs, will resonate with those seeking a rustic feel. Further south in the park, Lake Lodge Cabins offers western cottages with a wondrous backdrop and just the right amount of modern amenities to ensure a comfortable overnight stay.
  • Hotels: To experience the most modern amenities with an overnight stay in Yellowstone, hotels and resorts like Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins offer newly renovated facilities, a central location in the park, and an in-house piano player that fills the open lobby with music every night. North in the park, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and cabins are found in a historic building with modern amenities, providing quick access to the nearby village, as well as nearby natural attractions, such as Boiling River and Mammoth Hot Springs- terraces.

More Outdoor Opportunities in Wyoming

For an overview of camping options in Wyoming’s adventure areas, check out our articles on the Best Campgrounds in Wyoming, Best Campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park, and Best Campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park. For more hiking trails in Wyoming, our Best Hiking Trails in Grand Teton National Park and Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Jackson Hole can send you some memorable trails.

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